There's a reason I've been struggling to write blog posts lately. Some of it is time and some of it is because I'm having trouble articulating what's on my mind.
I don't want to offend anybody and it's hard to say what I want to say without possibly upsetting certain people, especially romance authors. They are my peers and I do not want to upset them. I admire a lot of them.
I am frustrated though.
I'm getting really close to finishing two of my novels. It's taken me forever because I wanted to work on my writing techniques.
I read my bad reviews. I've thought about some things I've heard people say. I've been working on improving things.
I want to sell well someday. I want to make people happy.
Maybe part of my problem is that I've always struggled with being a people pleaser. I shouldn't care what people think or say, I should just do.
But that's not really me. I'm always trying to improve myself. I'm also sensitive, so when people speak, I tend to listen. This doesn't mean I cry when they say something negative, it just means that I'm not so good at ignoring people.
Anyway, what I really wanted to work on this time around was writing actual romance novels. I learned after I self-published that even if you write a novel and the entire thing is about a relationship, it's not a romance novel unless it has a happily ever after. Sorry, Nicholas Spark fans, but The Notebook isn't a real romance novel according to most romance novelists.
Because Romance novels need to follow a very specific formula or people aren't happy.
The biggest thing is the happily ever after, but there's also subtler things that you don't realize are there until you try to write something different.
You must write a main female lead who is either "average" looking or attractive. She must have a great personality or she isn't deserving of the male lead. The man must be very attractive. This is a fantasy after all and we can't have any "ugly" people. So while I think it would be interesting to write a romance novel about a character with dwarfism (I'm always coming up with random things like that), in reality, it's not okay according to romance writers.
I am ruining the fantasy. The best I could get writing about a person like that would be writing some kind of fetish erotica novel.
I'm not allowed to write about people that are "different", that I find interesting.
The men must be rich. They must be alpha. They must be handsome.
But in real life, I married a poor, nice guy. He is indeed very handsome, but I love him the way he is. What if I don't want to write about rich people? What if I don't want to write about men who are borderline aggressive assholes?
I'm destroying the fantasy! What kind of romance writer am I if I destroy the fantasy?!
It doesn't matter that it's not my fantasy. I must not destroy the fantasy.
The characters must both have strong personalities. They must fight with each other through the entire novel. This can be fun at times, but I also romanticize the idea of people falling in love who have outside circumstances keeping them apart, rather than internal ones.
There is some leeway in this area, but it seems like there's a strong preference. People prefer two characters who are fighting with each other, not two characters who are fighting for their love against the world.
And if I need to spend some time developing characters and personalities in the beginning? You can't do that. The two main love interests must meet in the very beginning, preferably the first chapter. Definitely within the first five though. If they meet in Chapter five, then I'm pushing it.
In my most recent novels, I did this with the first book. I forced it because I wanted to fit in to the romance genre. And all my critique partners agreed in unison that I started too late in the story and I needed to actually develop the characters first because they were all one dimensional.
And once I did that, the romance started halfway through my book now.
Guess what? It's not a romance novel anymore.
In no other genre can character development possibly kick you out of the genre. My book still fits into fantasy now that I developed my characters. It did before I developed them and it does now afterwards.
You must write for the formula or it's not a romance novel anymore.
Also, the characters can't fall in love too fast or have sex too quickly. Forget that relationships in real life progress in all kinds of different ways. It must go like this...
First they see each other and hate each other. Then they are fighting and there's sexual tension. Then they are fighting and they shockingly kiss in the middle of fighting. Then this leads to fighting and them fooling around. Then this leads to fighting and having sex. THEN, they resolve everything and live happily ever after. They're in love now!
My husband and I in real life, we moved in together after a week of knowing each other and had already said we loved each other. Some people might think that's crazy, but here we are five years later happier than we could otherwise be. It allowed me to get close to his mother for the little time she had left of her life and it allowed me to be there for him when he lost her.
But romance novels aren't about real life. They are about the fantasy.
If two people meet in a book and have sex right away, then it's not a romance novel anymore. Maybe an erotica, but in romance, people aren't allowed to do that stuff until they are in love, late in the book. Some of my reviews for Medusa's Desire complained about this. Even though they don't say they love each other until later, because they had sex write away, I was accused of making it an "insta-love" book. Because in romance novels, sex equals love.
I've been trying not to do things like these.
And it has made me stop enjoying reading romance novels because I learned the formula too well and now they all seem like this:
"Brock is a Dragon King. He kidnaps Stacey. They fight because they both have strong personalities, but they slowly fall in love and have sex. Then they live happily ever after."
"Damien is a billionaire bachelor. He's content being a playboy, but then he meets Susie. They fight because they both have strong personalities, but they slowly fall in love and have sex. They live happily ever after."
"Big Feather is a Native American Chief. He kidnaps Stephanie. They fight because they both have strong personalities, but they slowly fall in love and have sex. They live happily ever after."
"Josh is a cowboy. He's teaching model Tiffany how to work on a ranch. They fight because they both have strong personalities, but they slowly fall in love and have sex. They live happily ever after."
And then there's one of my books...
"Medusa is a monster reviled by humans. Perseus is a hero sent to kill her. Instead, he sleeps with her and she travels with him. They fall in love, but he's sleeping with another woman to cover up their relationship. She realizes he'll be happier without her, even though he loves her. She makes the ultimate sacrifice by ripping out her eyes and erasing his memory."
It's all out of order and the ending is wrong. The whole novel is still about Medusa and Perseus' relationship, but they sleep together when they first meet and their ending isn't happy.
If you want to write a novel that hits all these areas that I labeled as formulaic, that's fine. There's a place for EVERY type of novel out there.
That's not what's bothering me. I'm not trying to get rid of anything.
I'm just asking that you please stop trying to get rid of me. Stop telling me over and over again that it doesn't matter how much of my books has a couple falling in love, it just matters whether I meet the formula or not.
If there is room for your books, why isn't there room for other books?
If fantasy worked like this, if it was this strict and this specific, then everyone would have to write about dragon novels. Somewhere in the novel, one of the dragons would have to lay an egg. In the end, the baby and the dragon mother have to live happily ever after and you must introduce a dragon within the first 20 pages.
There would be this author who liked to write about elves. She'd try to make it about dragons, but as she is writing, the dragons would start growing pointy ears and walking on two legs. So she'd change it and make it about elves, trying to add a dragon somewhere in there to make up for what she had done. But people would go,"What is a dragon doing in a book about elves?" So she'd cut out some of the scenes with the dragon in it, start swearing because she forgot to put a scene where the dragon laid an egg, and worry that it's no longer a fantasy novel because the dragon didn't appear until the tenth chapter.
Then she'd throw her manuscript out the window and scream and cry and wonder...
WHY? WHY? WHY?
WHY CAN'T I WRITE A "REAL" FANTASY NOVEL. I JUST WRITE ABOUT ELVES AND NOT DRAGONS!
I read romance novels all my life. I only started reading fantasy as an adult. It wasn't really allowed in my house when I was younger. I love it now.
But even though I'm less familiar with it, even though I didn't grow-up with it like I grew-up with romance, I've been welcomed with open arms. I can write about orcs. I can write about mermaids. I can write about magic. I can write about no magic. There's barely any rules.
So I don't get this romance thing, where we throw out stories like Romeo and Juliet and The Notebook because they don't fit the formula well enough.
Is it because of Jane Austen? Is it because all romance novels need to be related to Pride and Prejudice in some way? Rich man falls in love with feminist. They fight a lot because they have such strong personalities, but slowly they fall in love anyway and live happily ever after.
But I am a Bronte girl. A Jane Eyre lover. I want a story about a girl who was abused growing up. We don't meet her true love in the first chapter, we meet HER instead-strong, interesting Jane Eyre. I want a stocky, ugly man to fall in love with the pale looking Jane. She's too skinny. I want a deranged wife to come in on their wedding day and ruin their chance at happiness. I want her to be homeless and hang out with church people for awhile even though it has nothing to do with the romance. And then when she finally does get her happily ever after, it's only after the main male character is disfigured and hideous and blind because his ex-wife tried to kill him. It's PERFECT!
That's my kind of romance story. That's what I want to write and what I want to read. And there has to be a place for me, too, somewhere in there.
It's not that I hate the formula. I just don't want to have to meet every point, every single time.
I don't want people to stop writing what they are writing. I don't want to get rid of alpha males, billionaires, and firemen.
I just want there to be some variety. Is variety really so horrible?